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Utah Democrats: Springmeyer to challenge governor

Victors emerge at state conventions

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Utah Democrats mostly avoided any controversy at their state convention Saturday, agreeing with party leadership that Bob Springmeyer should be their nominee for governor.

In one of the few contested races that had to be settled during the convention at the Salt Palace, Springmeyer beat the other two gubernatorial candidates, Matt Frandsen and Monty Nafoosi, by enough votes to skip a primary and so will face Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in November.

In fact, Springmeyer, 64 and an urban planner long active in the party, was confident enough of a win to nominate his running mate, Josie Valdez, even before the ballots were passed out to convention delegates.

Her nomination as lieutenant governor was quickly accepted in a voice vote. Valdez, the former assistant director of the Small Business Administration Office in Salt Lake City, said that to her knowledge, she is the first Latino candidate for the statewide office.

"I am there to say this is a party of inclusion," Valdez, 60, told the Deseret News. "I'll let people know, 'You can belong."' Her husband is Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, who is running for re-election.

Springmeyer told delegates he is the "good jobs, good education, good health, clean air and clean water candidate for governor" who would veto any legislation that attempts to "micromanage" local governments and school districts.

Frandsen described to delegates his efforts to launch an initiative petition drive to change the state's income tax system, and Nafoosi called for electric cars to be built in Utah and made available for residents at a cost of $300 a month.

There will be face-offs among some Democrats in the June 24 primary.

In House District 69, Grady McEnvoy and Christine Watkins will move on to the primary, after Kay Colosimo was eliminated from the race Saturday. The seat is held by House Minority Leader Brad King, D-Price, who is running for state Senate.

The other contested race was for House District 53. Delegates chose Kathy Lofft over Ryan Jensen to challenge Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, a former House speaker.

Democratic Party officials declined to release detailed results, including the percentages of votes candidates received, from Saturday's convention.

Perhaps the most hard-fought races were for two party posts, national committeeman and national committeewoman. Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch and former state Sen. Patrice Arent were chosen to represent Utah on the Democratic National Committee.

Hatch defeated the current committeeman, former Congressman Bill Orton, as well as two other candidates, after Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, sent an e-mail to delegates saying Orton should be ousted for supporting McCoy's GOP state Senate opponent two years ago.

Arent won the committeewoman post over Billie Gay Larson, who ran unsuccessfully for Salt Lake County treasurer in 2006. The current committeewoman, Helen Langan, did not seek re-election.

Also picked by party members Friday and Saturday were 23 of 29 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, to be held in August in Denver, apportioned according to the results of the state's Feb. 5 Democratic presidential primary.

Fourteen are committed to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and nine to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Utah also has six so-called "superdelegates," party leaders who are free to vote for either candidate.

As expected, the final superdelegate named Friday, Kristi Cumming, is backing Obama. Cumming and her husband hosted the Illinois U.S. senator in their Park City home for a fundraiser last summer.

A total of three Utah superdelegates now support Obama, and two support Clinton.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is the state's only superdelegate who remains uncommitted to either candidate.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com